The Village Rickshaw Tycoon
The Village Rickshaw Tycoon5 mins 155 5 mins 155
The night stay in the railway station was agonizing. The onslaught by pesky mosquitoes would not let us be in peace for even a minute. Rakesh managed to get one abandoned egg carton from outside the station area. He burnt the pulp and the smoke drove away from the mosquitoes but also irritated our eyes. The otherwise dark and still night got resonated by the occasional shrill cry of foxes. The cricket chirped the rest of the time. The atmosphere appeared eerie. We paced the platform to while away time. It was only before dawn that sleep overtook us we slept like a log. Since the time we ran away from the prison we had only been on the run, no proper rest and food. The mental pressure of being caught also fatigued the bodies. When the sun rays started to pierce our eyes, we went under the big tree and slept again. A train arrived and brought some commotion, vendors blaring in coarse voice and the noise of the hurly-burly passengers. We rubbed our eyes and looked around. We looked around and sighted a pond nearby. As if our minds thought alike, we looked at each other and plunged into the pond. The cold water refreshed us and we swan-like children. I had my swimming training in the Ganges that flowed near our hutment in Kolkatta. It was now time to explore the town and also to think about our food and stay.
We walked the dusty path of the town. The metallic roads, that once existed were replaced by soil and broken bricks. Small shops on either side selling food just outside the station. A mountain of rice, sabji, fried items stood on the front of the shop. The dust fell luxuriously on the food but neither the shop owner nor the customers bothered. Small wooden benches for the customers to sit and eat were arranged on the roadside. A row of tonga and rickshaw stood on the other side, ponies waving the flies with their tales and stamping their own shit. We had just enough money to buy two plates of rice, dal and a mixed subji. We had proper food after a long time; this food was far tastier than the prison food.
We wandered on the streets of the town, sugarcane is the primary agriculture; few owned the fields and others worked there. Agricultural work appeared as an option. While walking we came across a college and saw a thatched house built on the wall of the fence. A man in dhoti, waving a hand fan, sat in a charpai. We approached him and asked, “ Would you mind if you ask you something?”
He looked at us as if trying to recognize us and then said: “Yes, but where are you from and whom are you looking for?”
“No one in particular. We came from the city to study the life of the villagers. But we need to earn our own livelihood. Could you help us” We said in unison?
He asked someone in his cottage to bring chairs for us. A child of around ten brought two plastic chairs. We sat with an obligation.
“Look, I don’t know what you want to study here. But, you are welcome” he said wiping his face with a gamcha that rested on his shoulder.
We just looked at him.
“Well, I can arrange for your stay at this school. It does not function anymore. I was a teacher here but now for many years, they haven’t paid my salary. So, if I leave this place I will lose my position and dues” he said while signaling the boy to bring water and tea for us.
We drank the water and slurped the tea noisily.
“I have actually encroached the school land -that is all I could do” he looked at the open field that lay in front of his humble cottage.
While we finished our tea and sat listening to his stories, we saw peddle rickshaws arriving and getting parked in the field. The rickshaw wallah would come and hand over money to this man. He would scribble something in a small notebook and keep the cash in his pocket after quickly counting it. This continued till the time the field got filled with rickshaw.
“I own all these rickshaws and lend it on daily rate; people come and ride it the whole day. At the end of the day, they pay the agreed amount and return the rickshaw”
We were astonished at the unique business that the School teacher had built.
“It all started when my daughter had to go to another school, little far from here. I would hire a rickshaw daily, it would cost me more money and I also had to chase him for being on time. It was then that I purchased a rickshaw. I saw steady money coming in. I kept adding more rickshaws and now I own over forty of them. The school had closed, so I grabbed this land and built this house. Now I have no worries, money comes regularly”
We observed that JPD was written crudely in the back of all rickshaws. It was then we came to know that his name was Jai Prakash Das hence the initials of his name in all the rickshaws. He had actually done branding of his venture.
JDP was kind enough to treat us with dinner that night and we slept on a beaten down locally made mattress in one of the rooms of the school building. We led the life of a proper human being that day. We were now looking forward to yet another day. No shrill fox cry and mosquito menace that night.